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Canine parvovirus, otherwise known as CPV or parvo, is a serious and often deadly virus that attacks dogs. Parvo is highly contagious and can live invisibly on surfaces for months at a time.
Although the death rate of parvo is unfortunately high, there is a disappointing lack of case studies and new information, which makes understanding the virus and its multiple strains difficult.
As with any virus, parvo does have different strains, and whilst it is rare for a dog to catch another strain of parvo after surviving the first, it is sadly not impossible.
Viruses can mutate and create multiple strains, so there is no guarantee of immunity. Much like the human flu virus, it is recommended that we get an annual flu vaccine to fight off another potential strain that did not exist several years ago.
What is Parvovirus?
Parvovirus was first discovered in 1967, and has since proven to be a dangerous and complicated virus. The virus works to divide and attack cells in a dog’s intestines and bone marrow, making it difficult and often impossible for a dog to absorb its nutrients.
The lack of nutrients can lead to dehydration, a high heart rate, hypothermia, and can be fatal. It is most common in puppies and young dogs.
Fortunately, a parvovirus vaccine is available for dogs. As the virus is so contagious, this is a vital vaccine. Puppies between 6-8 weeks must receive a series vaccine with a booster every 3 years for advanced protection.
However, due to the multiple strains, it is rare yet possible for vaccinated dogs to catch parvo once or even twice.
What are the symptoms?
Dogs who come into contact with the virus will begin to show symptoms between 3 and 7 days.
The earlier the symptoms are discovered, the better for finding ways to stop it from getting worse. The first symptoms include:
- Slight fever
- Loss of appetite
As these can be mistaken for an upset stomach for a dog, the clearer symptoms that advance are:
- Severe vomiting
- Weight loss
- No eating or drinking
Not every symptom will appear in an infected dog. This could be down to a strong immune system and light exposure to the virus, they may be asymptomatic, or they could just show one or two symptoms.
If you have concerns, keep an eye on their eating habits and the quality of their stool. The smell of an infected dog’s stool will not necessarily be different to usual, and it is not recommended to get close enough to smell to avoid contamination.
You will be able to see a difference in the consistency of stool, for example if it is watery or contains blood.
If you see any of these symptoms, immediately contact a vet to schedule a fecal test. Runny stool could easily be because of an upset stomach, but a test is worth checking it isn’t parvo.
How can my dog catch parvo?
Parvo is not airborne, but can live on surfaces for months and even years. It is mostly caught by contact with infected feces, even if it has been picked up.
The virus will linger on the ground and an exposed dog could easily unknowingly sniff an infected area.
The virus can also carry on fur and paws, so whilst a human cannot catch canine parvovirus they can easily be a carrier. Places that parvo may exist include:
- Walking areas such as parks or fields
- Pet stores
Fortunately, places that are also inhabited and used by humans who understand the severity of the virus should be cleaned regularly to kill bacteria, but this cannot be said for natural areas such as fields and dog parks.
What can I do to prevent my dog catching parvo?
The vaccine series for puppies is vital, and so is the recurring triennial booster. Whilst this won’t combat every strain, it will give your dog a higher chance of immunity.
Parvovirus can also withstand a lot of disinfectant, but the best method of cleaning is a bleach and water solution. This is good for regular cleaning regardless of parvo symptoms.
What do I do if my dog catches parvo?
If your dog tests positive for parvo, regardless of a vaccination, they must be isolated immediately until their fecal test turns negative.
Take your dog to the vets immediately after noticing symptoms as they will organise the best treatment plan, and fortunately 90% of contaminated dogs will survive under vet guidance.
The downside to this is that the vet bills may be expensive, but it’s worth paying for. If this is an issue, you can treat your dog at home by keeping them quarantined until they eventually have a negative test result.
Once they are clear, be vigilant to disinfect everything they could have touched in their isolation unit (whether this is a whole room or crate).
Food and water bowls, the crate itself, even the blankets. Everything must be cleaned or destroyed and replaced to prevent further contamination.
To be clear, nothing will destroy parvo completely. Like the human flu, the immune system can be treated to become stronger, but no drug can actively kill the virus.
Can a dog catch parvo twice?
As with any virus, parvo can mutate and create multiple strains. Due to the lack of case studies and scientific findings, there is no evidence of how many strains there are.
As no drug can kill parvo, and treatment only works to improve a dog’s immune system to fight it away, another strain can always infect a dog.
Fortunately, as a result of the vaccine, large outbreaks and epidemics of parvo are rare, but that does not mean they don’t have the potential to happen.
If a dog comes into contact unknowingly with a small exposure of parvo, chances are they may be able to fight it (if they have had the vaccine) or only need light treatment.
If a dog comes into contact with a place of high exposure, they may not be able to battle the virus.